Urban Environment, Sustainability and Climate Change

Smart and resilient cities are essential in tackling the growing threat and impacts of climate change and fostering sustainability. This learning track focuses on different analytical and practical approaches to foster resilience and environmental sustainability in urban areas worldwide among others through smart city innovations. It offers its participants the opportunity to understand the most recent trends and developments related to sustainable, smart and resilient cities. Key topics include nature-based solutions, urban climate mitigation and adaptation, sustainable urban energy, water and transport systems, urban climate resilience, and smart city innovations.

The Urban Environment, Sustainability and Climate Change programme is a master track within the MSc in Urban Management and Development, which offers students the opportunity to learn to apply the most innovative analytical tools used to promote sustainable, smart and resilient cities. It focuses on how cities can achieve sustainability from a social, economic and environmental perspective, what are the most innovative initiatives being undertaken by sustainable, smart, and resilient cities, how to implement effective and efficient urban adaptation and mitigation initiatives, and how cities can achieve a higher level of resilience. These topics are analysed from different perspectives including governance and financial arrangements, the analysis of decision making structures and processes, the management of transition and change processes, as well as different methodologies tools and techniques – from analysis and assessment to planning and implementation and monitoring and evaluation. However, this clear focus does not prevent the UESC specialization from being characterized by the necessary flexibility to respond to the specific interests and learning objectives of the participants. Furthermore, the track uniquely allows students to gain essential technical skills related to geographical information systems and large data sets analysis using software such as ArcGIS, QGIS and R or Python.

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At the end of the course, the students should be able to:

  • Plan and design sustainable, low carbon, adaptive, resilient cities and the relationship between urban structures and climate variables.
  • Understand why a multi-level governance approach is needed to support complex interactions between stakeholders dealing with climate change and environmental degradation and what are the social dimensions of climate change.
  • Understand and apply assessment tools and methodologies to evaluate low carbon, climate-resilient and green growth policies and projects.

How is your year organized?

The first block shares courses on urban sustainability, governance, planning, policy, finance, and data analytics with the other master tracks. However, your assignments with the modules as well as the action planning workshop are always track-specific. In the second and third blocks, your courses will only be track-specific, but all students also follow a course on GIS. The fourth block will be entirely dedicated to you writing your thesis. In addition, the programme will strengthen your research skills through research methods courses and workshops. It will further guide you in writing your thesis proposal on a topic relevant to your master track.


  • Urban sustainability transitions: Theory and practice in European cities.
  • Barriers and drivers of circular economy initiatives in Amsterdam.
  • Financing climate change adaptation: Which instruments are most effective?
  • Urban water systems and adaptation to climate change in Southeast Asian cities.
  • The urban governance of sustainable transport systems.
  • Managing urban energy systems to meet climate change objectives: Trends and innovations.
  • The roles of community resilience and risk appraisal in climate change adaptation in Chennai.
  • Developing an urban resilience index: Application to 10.000 urban areas worldwide.
  • Which factors are conducive to successful climate mitigation projects at urban level?
  • The effect of city size and population density on CO2 emissions: Evidence from the Yangtze River Delta urban agglomeration.
  • Nature-based solutions for flood reduction in African cities.
  • Assessing climate change risk and prioritizing adaptation measures using GIS.

Block 1 - October to January

With over half of the population living in urban areas, rising to 70% in 2050, it is of ever-increasing importance to understand how cities work and evolve. Complex and interrelated economic, social, physical, and environmental processes are constantly transforming cities. Understanding cities, therefore, require us to recognize, define and describe these complex and multidisciplinary processes.

This course will discuss the efforts of governments, often undertaken in partnership with other stakeholders, to deliberately intervene in and influence, steer and guide the development process of cities. 

Local governments have a key role in the planning and execution of investments and preparation of fundable projects. In some countries, local governments have become increasingly dependent on intergovernmental transfers, which have been shrinking over time in part because of the fiscal constraints. Moreover, investment decisions are at the core of any development strategy. All these and many other aspects of financial investments are addressed in this course.

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This does not only mean that a majority of people worldwide live in cities, but also that cities are increasingly becoming larger and more complex. To account for that complexity, an ever-increasing number of quantitative data sources that cover urban areas and cities on different scales have become available, requiring urban managers to have the knowledge and skills for analysing such data and making sense out of them. This course will teach students how to harness the power of quantitative urban data by mastering the way they are prepared, visualised and analysed. The course begins with introducing students to quantitative data analysis (compared to qualitative data analysis), and continues with lectures on descriptive statistics and data visualisation.

Blocks 2&3 - January to April

The Action Planning Workshop incorporates the concepts learned during the Urban Governance, Policy, Planning and Public-Private Partnerships (UGPPP) module in a practical, one-week exercise conducted in cooperation with local stakeholders in the city of Rotterdam.

Have you ever wanted to carry out a spatial analysis for research purposes? Or do you intend to do so for your thesis? GIS can be a powerful tool for spatial data analysis as it can link spatial and non-spatial data. Furthermore, visualizing data spatially, for example through maps, can reveal spatial relations which otherwise would not have become apparent. In this course, we will introduce and apply fundamental methods for analyzing data in GIS which will be helpful in answering research questions with a spatial component. These skills will be an added value in social sciences research and will be highly valued in various professions.

The module covers the following topics:

  • Theoretical approaches to governing global environmental challenges
  • Ecosystems in urban landscapes 
  • Built environment 
  • Climate change: Impacts and risks in the urban environment
  • Urban resilience: Theory and assessment approaches 
  • Smart cities 
  • Sustainability in the context of climate change 

The module covers the following topics:

  • Climate change adaptation 
  • Climate change mitigation 
  • Nature-based solutions 
  • ICT-based solutions 
  • Programming, big data, and statistical forecasting 

The module covers the following topics:

  • GIS & ICT, including citizen science and environmental and earth observations 
  • Programming, big data, and statistical forecasting 
  • Mapping and assessing ecosystem services 
  • Ecosystem based strategies for financing climate action projects 
  • GHG emissions
  • Urban Energy Systems and Transition
  • Climate change hazards and risk assessment
  • Tygron Geodesic Platform 
  • Vulnerability assessment 
  • Air quality and heat island assessment 

Individual assignment on developing strategies for building sustainable, smart, and resilient cities based on analysis of a selected case study and with the application of key methodologies, techniques, and tools.

Designing and implementing academic research in the field of urban studies is a major component of the master’s programme at IHS. This Research Design (RD) course guides students to design academic research within the social sciences and to develop their thesis proposal.

The main objective of the Research Proposal Period is to support the individual research process of participants and at the same time produce a body of collective knowledge that is expected to contribute to the understanding of the domain of urban management and development in developing, transitional and developed countries.

Block 4 - April to September

Designing and implementing academic research in the field of urban studies is a major component of the master's programme at IHS. During this period students will write their master thesis on their chosen topic guided by a supervisor.

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